Authorities said 10 people were taken to the hospital, eight were treated on site, and others were evaluated after the pilot of an Emirates Airline jet declared a medical emergency before landing at JFK International Airport Wednesday morning.
Emirates Flight 203, an Airbus A380 with 521 passengers on board, arrived at JFK from Dubai at 9:10 a.m.
Vanilla Ice, whose real name is Robert Van Winkle, said it was a chaotic scene.
"When we started looking out of the windows we were like, this is much bigger than the pilot made it out to be, you know this is real serious," he said. "At that point I was starting to worry."
So I just landed from Dubai and now there is like tons of ambulances and fire trucks and police all over the place pic.twitter.com/i9QLh6WyJW— Vanilla Ice (@vanillaice) September 5, 2018
Other passengers took to Twitter to describe the scene, including Erin Sykes who wrote "worst flight ever Dubai to NYC; plane was basically a flying infirmary. Many of these people should never have been allowed to board. Now sitting on the ground after 14 hour flight unable to leave."
The pilot reported two male passengers on board with extremely high fevers and approximately 100 passengers "coughing non-stop."
The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Customs and Border Protection were notified, and the CDC said it was initially alerted to passengers and crew members complaining of symptoms of gastrointestinal illness and other symptoms including cough and fevers when they responded to the flight.
New York City health officials say they obtained respiratory samples from the 10 patients who were hospitalized and the tests showed viruses such as influenza and the common cold.
As law enforcement and health officials responded on the ground, the plane was held away from the terminals.
Sick passengers were triaged on the plane. Eventually, the 10 people were taken off and transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
All passengers from flight EK 203 were screened by local health authorities before they disembarked from the plane at JFK, Emirates Airlines announced on Twitter.
In a statement, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection provided an overview of how U.S. authorities are prepared to react to incidents like this: Agencies that responded at JFK included the CDC, Port Authority, FDNY and CBP.
When CBP was informed that passengers were experiencing flu-like symptoms, an Incident Command Center was activated: "CBP and the CDC have worked with state and local authorities in a collaborative inter-agency manner to develop policies, procedures, and protocols to identify travelers that are known by U.S. public health officials to have a communicable disease and to handle in a manner that minimizes risk to the public. These procedures were utilized to mitigate any health-related concerns on the flight."
Eric Phillips, a spokesman for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, initially tweeted that the flight stopped in Mecca, which is experiencing a flu outbreak, and "early indications point to that as a possibility." Phillips later issued a correction, saying the flight arrived in New York directly from Dubai, and that it had, in fact, not stopped in Mecca before touching down in Dubai.
Emirates Airline operates three daily flights into JFK and two into Newark Liberty International Airport.
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